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ARTICLE: How the media prepared France for WW II

Münchener Abkommen, Abreise von Daladier, photograph courtesy of the German Federal Archive, licence CC-BY-SA 3.0

In a very short time France’s prime minister Édouard Daladier (1884-1970) was able to turn the public image of the country around – securing Great Britain as an ally right before the Second World War descended upon France. Media, especially newsreels and newspapers, was crucial in signalling the British of France’s capability as a war-time ally, Daniel Hucker, of the University of Nottingham, writes.

Hucker’s review focuses on late 1930’s. France was at the time internally divided and unstable – talk of even civil war was common in the Parisian press. These papers, also viciously partisan, were widely read by British diplomats, who then relayed the situation to London. Thus France was seen by the British as an unreliable ally, a country on the verge of collapse.

Daladier’s third term as a prime minister begun in early 1938. He saw the damage bad press was doing to France’s foreign relations, and in light of the escalating conflicts in Europe begun to systematically build France a more stable image.

The prime minister called for unity in speeches and arranged appearances that highlighted not only France’s cohesion but also its close ties with Great Britain. Positive images were also directly broadcast to the British audience through newsreels. These “semi-official” accounts highlighted France’s military prowess and imperial history.

Simultaneously Daladier moved to silence critical press by pushing for more powers, which he received. This led to the creation of a propaganda ministry, and eventually to the closure of some newspapers that had attacked Daladier. This feverish campaign of national unification was not lost on the British, who again came to see France as a “worthwhile ally”, Hucker concludes.

The article “The French Media and the Forging of a Franco-British Alliance in the late 1930s” was published by the journal Media History. It is available online (abstract free).

Picture: Münchener Abkommen, Abreise von Daladier, photograph courtesy of the German Federal Archive, licence CC-BY-SA 3.0.

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